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Author: Richard Barbrook

Hegel & The Ethical State

French victory over Prussians at 1806 battle of Jena: Hegel in crowds cheering Napoléon Bonaparte = “World Soul on horseback.” Editor of Bonapartist newspaper in Germany. Brother and brother-in-law killed during 1812 French invasion of Russia. Bonaparte’s liberal dictatorship = third way between Bourbon kings and Jacobin republic. 1789 French revolution = “the end of history”: social and political foundation of human freedom.

18th century Enlightenment discredited Christian justification for absolute monarchy -> Hegel’s speculative philosophy discovers rational basis for state authority. World Spirit = the inevitable progress of the “idea of freedom” through repeated dialectical contradictions of global history: Asia -> Greece -> Rome -> Germany. 1807 Philosophy of the Spirit: the master-slave dialectic as the primordial struggle for recognition explains pre-1789 class society divided between aristocrats and labourers. 1517 Martin Luther’s 95 Theses = Protestant equality of believers -> 14/7/1789 Storming of the Bastille = Hegelian equality of citizens. Slaves have learnt to beat masters on the battlefield = end of history as feudal class antagonisms. Instability of post-1789 France: Liberalism = atomised individualism into social chaos -> Jacobinism = Absolute Liberty into Absolute Terror. Bonaparte’s 1799 coup d’état -> Napoleonic empire: meritocratic elite = “every soldier has a Marshal’s baton in his knapsack”; mixed form of government = Emperor, Senate, Tribunate & Conseil d’État; and European unity = Code Civil, common currency & single market. 1821 Philosophy of Right: military defeat of Bonaparte -> political victory of Bonapartism. Hegel’s obscure language = Freemasonry’s occult truths: king of Rome disguised as king of Prussia.

Hegel’s political philosophy = negative freedoms of civil society -> substantive freedoms of the state. Modernity = master-slave dialectic superseded by bourgeois citizenship. Hegel admires liberal economics of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Private property = externalisation of individual wills. Family = patriarchal contract between two individual wills. Law = universalisation of individual property ownership. Market competition between property owners = multiplication of needs -> one-sided development of bourgeois individuals. Civil society = dynamic and egoistic -> anarchy and collapse. Mass poverty -> violent revolution.

Bonapartist state imposes political discipline upon capitalist competition. Three estates as intermediary institutions between ruler and ruled: notables, bourgeoisie and bureaucracy. Assembly of notables = hereditary or appointed landowners who serve the state and funded by land rent. Corporations of bourgeoisie = urban merchants, artisans and bankers who create both wealth and deprivation. State bureaucracy = meritocratic civil service outside and above civil society. Political supervision of market economy: law, defence, infrastructure, welfare and education. Patriotism = reconciliation of individual wills and collective interests through ethical concept of state. Hegel rejects social contract theory of Rousseau = levelling conformity of Jacobin republic. Hegel advocates mixed constitution with separation of powers between executive = bureaucracy and legislature = notables and corporations. Wealth moderated by wisdom.

The people’s emperor: formless mass of egotistic individuals united by Great Man who personifies World Spirit of historical progress. Monarchy is single mind above squabbling factions of notables and bourgeoisie. Long-term goals not short-term gains. Political and military leadership for national conflicts for global dominance. Hegel rejects Immanuel Kant’s belief that liberal republics = perpetual peace. Rationality of warfare = world-historical evolution from autonomous states into universal state. 14/7/1789 = realisation of freedom in one nation -> dissemination to all nations. Bonaparte’s downfall = hubris of ignoring intermediary institutions of Napoleonic empire. Mixed constitution enables selfish individuals of capitalist market to be patriotic citizens of ethical state. The end of world-history = “the real is rational” for everyone everywhere.

Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.